THE BOOK OF JUDGES
Background and Theme
The book of Judges takes up the history of the nation of Israel after Joshua’s generation had died. The people had failed to drive out the heathen inhabitants of Canaan completely. In fact, they had mingled with the pagans and were practicing idolatry. As a result, God repeatedly delivered His people into the hands of Gentiles oppressors. This servitude brought the Jews to the place of repentance and contrition. When they cried out to the Lord to deliver them, He raised up judges. It is from these leaders that the book gets its name.
The events in the book span about 325 years, from Othniel to Samson. The judges were military leaders rather than simply jurists. By heroic deeds of faith they executed God’s judgment or overthrew their oppressors, thereby restoring a measure of peace and freedom to the people. Twelve judges were raised up to deliver Israel. Some are given extensive coverage in the book while others are mentioned in only one or two verses. They came from nine different tribes and delivered their people from the Mesopotamians, Moabites, Philistines, Canaanites, Midianites and Ammonites. No judge ruled over the entire nation until Samuel.
The book of Judges is not strictly chronological. The first two chapters contain introductory material, both historical and prophetical. The record of the judges themselves (chapters 3-16) is not necessarily chronological. Some of the judges may have been conquering their enemies at the same time but in different sections of the land. This is important to remember, since the number of years mentioned in the book, if added consecutively, totals over 400, which is more than the Bible allots for this period (Acts 13:19, 20; 1 Kings 6:1).
The closing chapters (17-21) record events that took place during the time of the judges, but they are placed at the end of the book to give a picture of the religious, more, and civil corruption in Israel during this period. The character of the times is well-described in the key verse (17:6): “In those days there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
If we believe that every word of God is pure and that all Scripture is profitable, then it follows that Judges contains important spiritual themes and lessons for us. Some of these lessons are hidden in the names of the Gentile oppressors and the judges who delivered Israel. The oppressors picture the powers of this world that seek to bring God’s people into bondage. The judges symbolize the means by which we fight the spiritual warfare.
In our comments we have included some practical application, many taken from old classic works.
There is always a danger of taking this study of types or figures to an extreme. We have tried to avoid any interpretations that are strained or fanciful. Also, it must be admitted that the meanings of some of the names are uncertain.
Taken from MacDonald, The Believer’s Bible Commentary